WHO ARE THE 144,000?
By David J. Riggs
The number “144,000” is mentioned in two passages in the Scriptures, both in the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4; 14:1-3). In Rev. 7:4, the 144,000 were the faithful who were sealed on earth as shown in verses 2 and 3. The “seal” signifies ownership and consequent protection (Ezek. 9:6; 2 Tim. 2:19; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30).
In chapter six of Revelation we see the saints under the altar (9-11) and a terrible judgment coming upon the earth which was closed with the question, “Who shall be able to stand?” (12-17). In view of this one might ask, “Will the saints on earth be able to stand and what will happen to the souls under the altar?” John’s vision (an interlude of two parts between the six and seventh seals) answers these questions. The saints on earth are sealed and those martyred are before the throne of God. Thus, the first part of the interlude is to permit the sealing of the saints in order that they will be able to endure the afflictions set forth in chapter six. The judgments seem to be altered so that they will not hurt God’s children.
In chapter seven, the four angels standing at the four corners (used to designate the four directions) were holding the four winds of the earth (the four winds of judgment–conquest, war, famine, and death–as in 6:1-8 and as seen from the word “hurt” in 7:2-3). (Compare Jer. 49:36-38; 51:1-2). They were given to hurt the earth and the sea, but another angel ascending from the sunrising (from the direction of the morning light; suggests a message of cheer and encouragement), having the seal of the living God, said, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we shall have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” (7:3). Hence, God’s people will not be affected by the forthcoming judgments as will the people of the world. (See Rev. 9:4).
After the vision of the 144,000, John sees a great multitude which no man could number out of every nation and from every tribe, people and tongue. (7:9-17). Jehovah’s Witnesses try to teach that these are the saved who inherit the earth and the 144,000 are those who receive heaven. However, the 144,000 are those on earth who are sealed and the great multitude are those souls with God who had come out of the great tribulation (6:9; 7:13-14). Furthermore, the expression, “before the throne” is used both of the great multitude (7:9) and later in the heavenly setting of the 144,000 (14:1-5). The white robes of the great multitude are symbolical of holiness, and justification (3:4-5; 6:11; 7:14), and the palms suggest a joyful, festive occasion (Lev. 23:40; John 12:13).
They cried with a loud voice saying “Salvation to our God, who sitteth on the throne and unto the Lamb” (an expression of praise and gratitude to both God and Christ for the salvation provided). They are followed by angels who fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped God with a sevenfold praise similar to that given to the Lamb in Rev. 5:12. The angels stood around the throne, as well as the elders, and the four living creatures (7:11), which again shows that this occurred in heaven and is not something that is to occur on earth.
One of the elders speaks asking John, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” John did not know, but he was certain that the elder knew. The elder answered, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation…” (7:14). The “great tribulation” here is the one that took place under the world wide persecution (not fully identified until the 13th chapter) in John’s day. It was “world wide” because this great multitude with the white robes were of “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (7:9). They are the same ones with “white robes” who cry for the avenging of their blood (6:9-11). They had been put to death for their faith, had gained the victory, and are now before the throne. They had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. By Christ’s blood the saint is washed from his sins (Rev. 1:5), redeemed (Rev. 5:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:18-19), given remission of sins (Matt. 26:28), has constant cleansing as he continually complies with the conditions (1 John 1:7-9), and is able to overcome (Rev. 12:11).
In chapter 14 of Revelation, the victorious Lamb stood on mount Zion and with Him were 144,000 who had the Father’s name written in their foreheads (14:1). These are those who were sealed earlier and are now also before the throne (14:5). The term “before the throne” is figurative of the place of comfort or paradise. Thus, the 144,000 represent the complete number of the martyred saints including the rest of those who were to come out of the great tribulation (6:9-11). They were the holy city that would be tread underfoot (11:2); the beast had made war with them and overcome them (14:3). They had obtained the victory over the beast (15:2) and their blood would soon be avenged (16:5-6; 17;6; 18:24; 19:2). They were the martyrs living and reigning with Christ (20:4).
Again, the number “144,000” must not be taken literal. It simply represents the complete number of the martyred saints. If one makes the number literal, he must also make their description literal. This would mean that only virgin men will go to heaven (14:4). On the contrary, these were the “firstfruits” to God and the Lamb (14:4) indicating others would follow. The Bible speaks of heaven for every faithful child of God (2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:4-5). Those who limit heaven to only 144,000 have completely misunderstood the Bible, not to mention John’s teaching in Revelation. As we explained, the sealing of the 144,000 in chapter 7 was done to those living on earth and does not refer to those in heaven at all. We pray that all those who are presently striving to serve God, will someday be in heaven with all the redeemed of the ages